Austin’s first hip hop festival, Weird City, kicks off today, spreading across the Red River Cultural District with shows at Empire Control Room, Red 7, Holy Mountain The North Door and Beerland. There’s a dizzying number of great performers involved with the festival, but we’ve put together our top choices for acts you can’t miss. And tickets are still available if you want to check it out!
There’s never a shortage of idiots eager to argue DJs don’t do anything but push buttons, and if anyone can shut those people up it’s Austin’s own Boom Baptist. Outside of producing hot shit vocal trio Keeper, Boom is one of the pillars of the Austin beat scene, both through his solo work and his involvement in the Applied Pressure Crew (who are all over Weird City). Boom’s sets are all over the map, ranging from more traditional DJ sets to Baths-like abstract pop experimentation to freestyle raps over his own beats, but no matter what form Boom’s material takes, it’s never less than mind blowing. Rather than hide behind a wall of sequencers and laptops, Boom’s recent sets have had him stripped down to an Ableton Push and a mic, but the trade off is that the Push has allowed him more flexibility for live sampling and manipulation, as well as more freedom to entertain and interact with the crowd. In a literal sense, it may seem like he’s just pushing buttons, but if you’re a nonbeliever in need of a musically religious epiphany, Boom Baptist is your savior.
Boom Baptist plays tonight, September 26th, at Holy Mountain at 12:00 am.
One of the best pairings at Weird City is the one-two punch of Boom Baptist and Detroit legend Guilty Simpson at Holy Mountain. A key collaborator of J Dilla’s as well as a frequent guest on Black Milk and Madlib tracks, Guilty Simpson has somehow managed to avoid the spotlight he so rightfully deserves. Possessing one of the strongest, clearest flows in hip hop, Simpson performs with the strength and finesse of a boxer, not so much rapping over beats as dominating them and turning them into tools at his disposal. Simpson’s collaborations with Dilla and Madlib are beloved by fans for a reason, but I’m a sucker for his recent work with Portishead spinoff Quakers, who are set to produce a new album with Simpson. One of the highlights of the Quakers debut was “Fitta Happier,” an audio oddity that had the title and main statement of Radiohead’s text-to-speech classic “Fitter Happier” colliding with a brassy update of the band’s later work “National Anthem” as Simpson turned in an unshakable performance over top. Simpson has been around for a minute, but the Quakers collaboration proved we ain’t seen nothing yet and his Weird City performance is sure to win over some new believers.
Guilty Simpson plays tonight, September 26th, at Holy Mountain at 1:00 am
Magna Carda may be easy to see on a regular basis here in Austin, but anyone who has caught the group recently knows every show reveals how swiftly they’re evolving. Now featuring live drums in the mix courtesy of Alvin Warren, Megz Kelli and Dougie Do’s live hip hop ensemble is on the verge of breaking out in a big way and Weird City is the perfect platform for the group to prove themselves not just to the city but to the veteran performers the festival has booked. It doesn’t hurt that the band’s breezy, uplifting mixture of R&B and hip hop is a surefire party starter, with tracks like “Thas Everything” even coming with built in throwback dance moves.
Magna Carda plays on Saturday, September 27th at Empire Control Room at 9 pm.
Few artists have had careers as unpredictable as Jean Grae’s. One of hip hop’s true badass femmes, Grae has collaborated with major acts ranging from Talib Kweli to 9th Wonder to the Roots, created her own sitcom and even has an audiobook out called The State of Eh. To further prove she’s not one to rest on laurels, Grae’s recent work– the EP trifecta Gotham Down— featured the emcee bouncing back from the threat of retirement to provide some of the most incendiary music of her career, as well as some stunning self-directed visuals to go along with it. Grae is a performer who is symbolic of doing whatever it takes to be heard, which is about as close to the spirit of Weird City Hip Hop Festival as you can get– after all, what’s more bold than starting your own festival to get your city to wake up to your scene?
Jean Grae plays on Saturday September 27th at Empire Control Room at 11:30 pm.
On the unpredictable career front, not many hip hop artists can say they’ve worked with Jack White. Back in 2011, though, Black Milk managed to catch the attention of his star Detroit neighbor, prompting a collaboration between the two on the “Brain” 7″, where the title track and “Royal Mega” showed off the flexibility and verve of Black Milk’s sound, made all the more potent by the addition of White’s own flamboyant style. But where the two likely fully bonded was in there love of Detroit’s classic sounds– White leaning towards garage classics and hard R&B while Milk draws from soul and funk classics. Both are masters at integrating old sounds into their new works and while Austin’s dominant sound is less sample heavy, Milk’s confident, hungry performing style is a natural fit. Maybe he can even encourage further bonding between local hip hop acts and their indie rock neighbors.
Black Milks plays on Saturday, September 27th at the North Door at 12:30 am.
Open Mike Eagle
I’ve always been drawn to the weirdo hip hop orbit around Busdriver, so it shouldn’t be too shocking that Open Mike Eagle is one of the acts I’m most excited about at Weird City. Like Busdriver and the rest of his Hellfyre Club buds, Open Mike Eagle is a tough act to peg down given his propensity for constantly shifting sounds and styles, but his defining trait is his knack for getting cerebral with his own work, analyzing as he flows, pondering while he crafts dexterous verses. Considering the dude once co-authored a paper on freestyle rapping’s effects on brain activity, it’s no wonder he can’t help but theorize and analyze as he works. That’s not to say Open Mike Eagle’s work is dull or stuffy, though, quite the opposite; after all, this is an artist who had Hannibal Buress guest star in a video as an advice columnist, made a Spike Lee-inflected tribute to dance crazes, and frequently raps about the various fluids and substances that get on his hands when he cleans his son’s diapers. “Qualifiers,” off of his new album Dark Comedy, might be the closest to an Open Mike Eagle Rosetta Stone, asking you to respect his eccentric qualifiers while still dazzling with its twisty melody and machine gun flow. Open Mike Eagle’s sets are a study in how to experiment, and wise Austin fans will pay close attention to what he’s got on the curriculum.
Open Mike Eagle plays on Saturday, September 27th at Red 7 at 12:00 am.
Riders Against the Storm
Well-deserved winners of the Band of Year award at this year’s Austin Music Awards, Riders Against the Storm are among the greatest ambassadors of hip hop Austin has, making them an absolute must see at Weird City. Featuring a sound that’s unabashedly poppy at points but always fully aware and thoughtful, Riders Against the Storm are successors of sorts to the aesthetic crafted by groups like Blackalicious, both groups proving themselves to be unafraid of hooks but equally unafraid of getting across a message. For RAS, the message is one of community, and the duo’s commitment to fostering that community is visible in their regular Empire Control Room event The Tipping Point, where they feature newcomers and veterans to the scene alike. Never preachy, RAS are simply one of the most entertaining, hardest working groups in the city.
Riders Against the Storm play Saturday, September 27th at Empire Control Room at 10:30.
Though they’ve been around for more than two decades, Dilated Peoples remain as vital as ever, as this year’s Rhymesayers release Directors of Photography ably proves. The band’s long career has mostly found them operating slightly outside of the mainstream, though their now classic Kanye West-produced track “This Way” gave them a taste of the charts back in 2004. Dilated Peoples have always been big time proponents of the groovy West Coast sound that their peers Jurassic 5 and tha Alkaholics are equally known for, but their post-Capitol Records work has gone in a darker, harder direction. Their new single “Good as Gone” is especially indicative of this, with its thriller soundtrack piano samples and sluggish, boomy bass. Hip hop is woefully short on long, fruitful careers, but Dilated Peoples’ willingness to explore new sonic territory has helped keep them fresh decades into their careers and their appearance at Weird City shows they’re happy to mingle with the fresh faces in the new underground, showing younger acts you don’t have to become irrelevant if you keep your ears and eyes open.
Dilated Peoples play Saturday, September 26th, at Empire Garage at 10:30 pm.
A founding member of seminal hip hop outfit Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch is perhaps the most impressive booking Weird City snagged in this first year. Monch hit the ground running after Organized Konfusion split up, releasing the still smoldering classic Internal Affairs, a solo release that provided Monch with his biggest hit in the form of the vicious “Simon Says.” Monch is one of the rare veteran emcees who continues to adapt and release impressive albums, and while his early solo career hit a few bumps as a result of the collapse of Rawkus, his newest album, PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has racked up solid reviews everywhere from Pitchfork to XXL. Hip hop has always been about artists exchanging ideas and sounds with each other, and Pharoahe Monch is a perfect elder statesman for a brand new hip hop festival in a city that is just learning to listen up.
Pharoahe Monch plays Saturday, September 27th, at Empire Control at 12:30 am.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover